Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 23, 2014

When I count the many perks of my job, "encounters with extraordinary women" is one of the prominent ones. In recent years I have become an ardent admirer of four Orthodox women from Beit Shemesh, Nili Philipp, Eve Finkelstein, Miriam Friedman Zussman, and Rachely Yair Schloss. Last Tuesday they gave their testimonies in our court case against the municipality of Beit Shemesh for failing to remove the modesty signs that are lining the streets of Beit Shemesh.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has issued a report that declares such signs discriminatory and illegal. Nevertheless, the municipality continues to give excuses for why the signs have yet to be removed.

Mati Chuta, the city's Director General was questioned on the stand by our lawyer, Orly Erez Likhovski:

Orly: Why are you not ordering the city inspectors to take down the signs?
Chuta: “The city has to be managed with great sensitivity towards the different communities, removing the signs is not a priority for us at all…it causes unnecessary disquiet…when I weigh these issues, I put the signs aside… There's no point in removing the signs. As soon as we take one down another comes back. It's a very expensive endeavor…We have no way to deal with it."
Orly: "What steps have you taken to implement the Attorney General's report?”
Chuta: “I haven't seen the report, I haven't done a thing”

The city's spokesperson Matti Rosenzweig was also questioned. He claimed “Women can alleviate the insult caused to them by simply removing it from their agenda. The minute women turn the signs into a symbol, they aggravate things."

The four women were given the opportunity to tell the judge how the signs affect them. Their testimonies showed that to avoid causing offense and to respect religious sensitivities, women are asked to relinquish far more substantive rights. These women demand to know why they should they be the ones to bear the cost of the religious needs of a group of extremist Haredi men. They are asking the judge, the municipality and Israeli society to take notice: the placing of signs in public spaces demanding that women observe extreme modesty standards is hurtful, it's illegal and it should be stopped.

In a Bat-Mitzva we bless the young girl, May you be like the foremothers of Israel who built our nation. There are many ways to build the sovereign Jewish state of Israel. Nili, Eve, Miriam, and Rachely are the foremothers on the front lines of the struggle for a sane Beit Shemesh. There will, one day, be a sign in Beit Shemesh commemorating their audacity, sisterhood, and unique contribution to their home town.